The Eisenhower Memorial farce

We have sporadically followed the long, sad saga of the proposed Eisenhower Memorial. The Eisenhower Memorial Commission has now survived 15 years. We have no Eisenhower Memorial, but the commission has a plan (a bad one) and a promotional website. For good and sufficient reason the National Capital Planning Commission rejected the proposed memorial plan earlier this year. The Washington Examiner reported on the NCPC’s rejection
in a long article by Luke Rosiak, but the memorial plan is not dead yet.

The commission is chaired by one Rocco Siciliano, a nonagenarian resident of Beverly Hills, and his loyal staff of nine full-time employees occupying K Street offices. The commission clings to Frank Gehry’s failed plan for a four-acre monument including eight eight-story columns.

I think of it as a monument to bad taste. In her column this week Mona Charen declares it “A monument to waste.”

The monument is also tougher to kill than Frankenstein’s monster, and just as ugly. Mona devotes her latest column to the story, recalling Eisenhower’s virtues while declaring the monument saga “a textbook case of corruption.” It is that too.

Indeed, the monument saga is a case study of several kinds. This is ugly — and I don’t mean only the proposed memorial. Wikipedia provides a lot of useful background here.

Mona begins with the establishment of the commission by Congress in 1999 and the commission’s original funding $64 million:

Without a design competition, the commission chose a design by Frank Gehry that critics, including the Eisenhower family, regard as insulting to Eisenhower’s memory. Featuring enormous metal “tapestries” eight stories tall that would depict the Kansas prairie, the block-long memorial park with its enormous metal curtains would dwarf the statuary in the center. The original design called for Ike to be portrayed as a barefoot boy. Thus is a key figure in the history of the 20th century reduced to insignificance. Historians sometimes do that to people — memorials are meant to do the reverse.

The boy Ike has since been replaced, after protests, with a proposed statue of Ike as a cadet. Not much better. West Point has produced many cadets but only one Eisenhower. Gehry now proposes to eliminate the tapestries, but keep the pillars. Commission member Bruce Cole, who believes a simple statue of the man would have been best (and most consistent with Ike’s wishes), says the pillars standing alone “look for all the world like industrial smokestacks.”

Opponents including the Eisenhower family have succeeded in keeping the Gehry plan for the memorial from being built. Mona looks back:

After 15 years, the commission has spent $41 million, including paying Gehry 95 percent of the price of construction drawings before the design was approved. According to the…Washington Examiner [in Rosiak’s article linked above] Gehry used some of the $15 million he received to hire former Clinton counsel Gregory Craig to help secure approval of the design. That’s how it goes when you’re well-connected in Washington.

Mona observes that congressional Republicans have declined the commission’s request for $50 million more: “They appropriated just $1 million last year, which still leaves the corrupt commission in business.” The story has not yet reached its end. Mona fittingly concludes with an open-ended question: “Is this farce to be the only memorial to one of our greatest leaders?”

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